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Kids and math to be focus of project

Eight Medford schools will participate in a statewide kindergarten math research project next year by the Pacific Institutes for Research and the University of Oregon to test a new curriculum aimed at strengthening students' math foundation.

Jackson, Jefferson, Lone Pine, Oak Grove, Roosevelt, Ruch, Washington and Wilson elementary schools in Medford and four other schools from the Portland and Eugene-Springfield areas will be involved in the study.

"Medford has really taken a stand that whenever an opportunity comes up that can benefit students early, we've stepped up to the plate to do that," said Julie York, Medford schools student services director.

The Kindergarten Mathematics Project developed by the research institute and university is made up of about 120 lessons focusing on numbers and operations, geometry, measurement and math vocabulary. It's funded by a three-year U.S. Department of Education grant.

"There is a strong consensus among math researchers on the need to develop math skills very early in order to get all kids to take algebra in high school and to be proficient," said Scott Baker, director of the Pacific Institutes for Research. "When kids develop a strong sense of number or quantity in preschool and kindergarten, they are more likely to be able to do other mathematical tasks."

The ability to master algebra in high school will be critical in Oregon in 2014 when students will be required to earn three credits in Algebra I and above to graduate.

The curriculum was piloted last year in Eugene-Springfield schools.

"It's shown promising results, so now we're taking it to a larger scale," said Ben Clarke, a research associate at the Pacific Institutes for Research.

Students using the curriculum generally performed better (by about 10 percentage points) on standardized tests in math, Clarke said.

During the first year of the study, half of the Medford teachers will use the experimental curriculum, and the other half will use the district's existing math curriculum.

Medford kindergartners now spend about 45 minutes four times a week on math lessons.

In the second year of the study, all kindergarten classes will use the curriculum, but some of the teachers will incorporate small group instruction to deliver it.

Participating teachers will receive three half-days of training for the curriculum.

The project will pay for schools' expenses associated with the curriculum, including training and materials. Schools and teachers will also receive a stipend of about $1,000 each to participate in the study.

"I think we were very flattered that the University of Oregon and the research institute asked us to be a part of this study," York said. "They asked us because they know we will follow through and implement the program with fidelity, and that's better for research."

The Medford district last year piloted a new math assessment for primary students developed by the U of O Center on Teaching and Learning. The idea, similar to an early reading assessment used in Medford called the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, is to identify weaknesses in math skills at an early age and provide targeted instruction to improve those skills.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.